That’s what “They” tell us, so it must be true. We want to know how much we earn and how much others earn. We want to compare the sizes of our churches, their programs, and their organs. We measure by human standards how much we’ve given. We do this to make ourselves feel good, but are we measuring with God’s measure?
For centuries, Christians assumed they owed God a tithe, that is, 10% of their increase that year. This consensus, like many others, is breaking down. Ironically, it’s breaking down at a time when we have more expendable income than ever before. You may hear about how wages are sinking, but take a look around at the number of things people are buying and judge whether or not they have expendable income left after they buy what is truly necessary.
When brought to our attention, many of us should be embarrassed by how stingy we have been with the money God has graciously let us use. Money is a symbol of our wealth and therefore a symbol of where our heart is as well. A perusal of someone’s checkbook would provide a very revealing look into the habits of his heart.
But what of the rest of our lives? God has given us not just money but time, goods, talents and abilities, relationships, and our very life. How much of these do we give to God, and how much do we hoard for ourselves? The way we use every one of these is a measure of how well we are keeping the First and Greatest Commandment: to love God with all we’ve got.
How much are we like the rich people whom Jesus observed and how much like the widow He observed? Actually, there is a third category. At least these rich people put in much, out of their riches. But there are also rich people who put in little, out of their riches.
What if we used a different measure, not how much we put in but how much we kept back for ourselves? We might then be able to better determine whether we are like the rich or the widow.
Taking time as one measure of our devotion to the Lord, how much of our time do we give to the Lord? Even within the realm of time, we could examine ourselves in several ways. We might, for example, wonder how often we remember to remember the Lord during our workday. Although our attention must be upon our work, when we do have time to focus elsewhere, is any of this attention given to the Lord?
When the workday has ended, or before it has begun, what do we find ourselves doing with the time not necessarily devoted to labor?
When I taught economics to high school seniors for a few years, I devised an activity for them to measure their economic stewardship of time, that most precious, scarce, non-fungible, non-transferable, non-storable, and never increasing resource. I asked them to keep track, in 15-minute increments, of how they spent their time each week. Naturally, their expenditures had some things in common, all being in school for the same number of hours per week.
I discovered that virtually none of them spent any time with the Lord, aside from one hour in church each week (and even that was spotty). Furthermore, they never knew a single moment in the week where they were quiet and meditative: all of their free time was filled with various noises, inputs, media, and virtual company.
We might examine other resources God has entrusted to us, including some surprising ones such as creativity and imagination. How much of our creativity and imagination is dedicated to pursuing greater riches or possessions for ourselves or great prestige and human accomplishments? And how much is dedicated to worshiping God, seeking to understand Him, proclaiming Him to others, or finding ways to serve others in His name? What if the creativity you brought to your work place or favorite hobby was brought into your personal prayer time or into your worship at your church?
Sometimes we find ourselves to be the widow and that all we have to give to the Lord is meager. We may be sick or infirm or so busy providing sustenance for our families that there isn’t much of any resource left over. In that case, the mite is enough, since it’s all you have.
But more commonly in 21st century America, we are the rich and have abundant resources from the Lord. How are you using what God has given you?
Here, then, is the measure of how well you are keeping the Greatest Commandment to love God with all He has given you: not how much you have given, but how much you have held back from Him.
“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.”
Prayer: O God, our loving Creator and Giver of every good gift, bless Your Church, strengthen our faith, and grant us Your love so that we may give generously of our time, talent, and treasure to the spreading of Your kingdom here in our church and throughout the world. In the name of Jesus, guide us as we go forth to serve as Your obedient and loving disciples to glorify You, acknowledge Your abundant blessings, and care for each other as our Lord has taught us. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Imagine that you are a first-century Jew in the Temple, bringing your gifts, and that Jesus is watching you. Based on your giving in this life, what would Jesus see?
Resolution: I resolve to make a choice to take something from myself and give it to the Lord today. It might be time, treasure, or talent.
Sacrifice of Isaac byCaravaggio – U. S. Public Domain